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Top 5: First XI costs in Premier League

Transfers 7 hours ago
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 Posted by ESPN Staff
Jan 22, 2011

Pep not getting carried away

Pep Guardiola expects Real Madrid to push Barcelona all the way this season, despite seeing his side move provisionally seven points clear at the Primera Division summit with a 3-0 win over Racing Santander on Saturday.

Goals from Pedro, Lionel Messi - from the penalty spot - and Andres Iniesta gave Barca a 14th consecutive triumph in La Liga ahead of second-placed Madrid's 20th-round match at home to Real Mallorca on Sunday.

And Guardiola fully expects the difference at the top to be reduced to four points again following that clash.

"Madrid are a very good team and their coach is the best," he said after the victory. "I imagine they will win tomorrow; I think they will be four points behind us again."

Guardiola believes Jose Mourinho is a great competitor, but says Madrid have always been strong - regardless of personnel.

"Mourinho is a very good coach. He's a very smart guy and he's motivated," he said. "Madrid are a strong team this year, but they have always been a strong team.

"When I was a player and now, as coach, Madrid have always been strong, no matter who is the president and no matter who is the coach - every season they play they are competitive.

"Last season they ended up with 96 points (Barca won the league with 99) and this season will be close again - they will be up there at the end of the season.

"Five, six or seven points is nothing at this stage of the league. The league will be decided in the last few rounds of the championship."

Barca took the lead after barely a minute tonight and Guardiola was full of praise for the way his side went about their task in the conditions.

"It's cold and we found it hard to get into our rhythm, but I am very satisfied with the way the players went about the game," he said.

"It was a great performance and I congratulate the team - they created many goalscoring opportunities."

Barca lost 3-1 at Real Betis in the second leg of the Copa del Rey quarter-final on Wednesday night, but advanced to the semi-finals of that competition thanks to their 5-0 win in the first leg.

Guardiola's side will continue their pursuit of all three major trophies - which they achieved in the coach's first season in charge - with the first leg of their cup semi-final against Almeria in midweek.

A league match at Hercules then follows next weekend, with a last-16 tie against Arsenal in the Champions League - to be played over two matches in late February and early March - to come as well.

The Barca coach says it is hard to maintain their high standards in three tough competitions.

"It has a lot of merit," he said. "The games come in thick and fast and it's hard to maintain that intensity day after day after day, in league and cup, to keep winning matches. My players have been sensational."

Meanwhile, Racing coach Miguel Angel Portugal was philosophical in defeat.

"Barcelona's football is on another level," he said. "Nobody plays football better than they do at the moment and we knew it would be very difficult to get anything from the game."

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